Who's got the button?

Last week, I met a woman I'm getting to know in Montréal, Diane, for coffee. She works in the design field, and has a style I'd call edge-of-edgy: not exactly avant-garde, but on the hip side of on-the-go style.

She was in a luminous sapphire-blue J. Crew velvet jacket, a cool black skirt and her signature aluminum-frame glasses. I'm not sure she's as "out" about her age as I am, so let's just say she is indeed appropriately in the Passage.

I especially liked how she wore her jacket that day–without a shirt or tee, which gave an uncluttered, clean line; nothing competed with the luxurious velvet.

But the detail I want to show is the button. Diane said the jacket came with sporty brown ones, and she found she just wasn't wearing it. She changed the buttons to silver gryphons and it now works with nearly everything she has.

Changing buttons is an overlooked strategy for upgrading, too. A dress looks much better with good buttons; a decent LBD can be nudged up to alluring by swapping, for example, a pedestrian plastic to an elegant silk knot. 

Quality buttons can lift a cardi to heights plastic ones only dream of; glowing Czech glass buttons (set of six) from Ruby Lane seller Juvel-Vintage are $5.

Diane's buttons came from a Montréal shop, Boutique Rix Rax, but if you live nowhere near a good notions store, you can find great buttons on eBay or Etsy. The NYC-based Tender Buttons is a mecca which I'll visit when there next month; if you have a particular request, like woven leather buttons for a coat, they can help by mail.

Rare or antique buttons can approach the price of the original garment, but if you love the piece, you'll have years of buttoned-up bliss–and you can always keep the buttons when the garment wears out. (I'm still sorry that I passed up a set of barrel-shaped real amber buttons some years ago.)

I'm generally not into 'cute' buttons except for kids' clothes, but bend when the material is organic rather than plastic: ceramic, wood, mother of pearl. Why not cheek up the sober blazer whose buttons you can't even remember? Stockwell Ceramics offer an almost overwhelming selection of Union Jacks to jack up your jacket. 

Lone buttons live on as pendants, especially when they're as exquisite as a ca. 1870 French one made into a necklace by veryDonna; price, $102 on Etsy. One hundred and forty years ago, weren't buttons astonishing?

Do you have something that would look sharper with fresh or better buttons? (That's not an insult; even designer clothes often chintz on them.) If you spring for a new set, as Diane did, it's a simple, smart tweak.


Also "Rubans Boutons" on St-Hubert just a bit northeast of Jean-Talon Market: http://www.rubansboutons.blogspot.ca

Some (not all) old, quality buttons are still in good shape when the time comes to discard a high-quality garment.

I love Diane's jacket. It does look sharp with nothing underneath, but I think une frileuse could layer a silk t underneath. The buttons do change its look dramatically.
Susan B said…
I've been thinking about replacing buttons on a couple of jackets to freshen them a bit. This may be just the inspiration I need...
coffeeaddict said…
Years ago I bought a black cotton twill jacket with ribbed corduroy accents and cherry red lining at a 70% discount. There were at least 4 or 5 of them hanging in the discount section of the store. At first glnce the jacket looked horrendous due to the abominal military inspired half sphere pewter buttons with cherry red and cerulean blue enamel. I bought the jacket and bought a set of antique silver metal buttons with black enamel swirl design which gave the jacket a bit of oomph while still maintaining the casual feel of the design.
materfamilias said…
I've been meaning to re-button an old cashmere cardi which has lost one of the matching 5 -- and of course, although having a boxful of all the spare buttons that came with garments, I can't find the one for the cardi. You've motivated me to put this little errand top of my list. Vanc'r has a great shop, Button Button. (I'm actually thinking I may even just replace the single lost button with an "accent" one if I can't find 5 new that I love. Will report back eventually. . .
My grandmother had a cookie tin full of unusual and beautiful buttons. I used to play with them as a child and now I would love to have them back.
Buttons are the unsung heros of a garment as you have pointed out.
Diane is very well dressed and how nice that you have made her acquaintance.
KSL said…
Knitting stores are a great place to find fun and unusual buttons too. Some stores also have vintage ones.
I love to thrift for buttons. I have found some amazing buttons in Goodwills for just the small price of the garments...my daughter and I made a Betsy Johnson coat incredible with buttons from a thrift garment...it is so much fun to play with!!
Shelley said…
I often change buttons on thrift-store items where one is missing or I just don't like the originals. I cut some glass buttons off an old moth-eaten sweater of my Mom's and am still looking for something to put them on. My last thrifted item had a covered button missing and I didn't have any the right size and colour, so I made the top button a snap closure with an interesting pewter coloured button on a taupe blouse. I like it.
Anonymous said…
When I was a child, my mother bought a Chanel-style wool boucle suit at a discount store, and immediately removed the hideous plastic buttons, replacing them with heavy braided gold ones that cost more than the suit. That transformation left a lasting impression, and like Pam, I have often bought vintage thrift shop clothes just for the buttons, in order to upgrade new garments.

Making your own covered buttons (it's easy with little packaged kits) can also add a beautiful finish. A few years ago I found a ($7) velveteen coat second hand, removed the cheap buttons and half-belt, and shortened it to Edwardian jacket length, using the left-over fabric to cover new buttons. It became one of my favorite pieces, and women often asked me where I got it. As you say, even expensive manufacturers often skimp on this detail, and plastic buttons--unless they are really interesting--can leave clothes looking blah.

I used to work near Tender Buttons, a fascinating place to browse, though I couldn't afford the beauties I wanted. Those 18th-century buttons!

Susan said…
I would love to dress just on the edge of edgy! What a good description.

I have not replaced any buttons on my own clothing, but assisted my husband in doing this for one of his blue blazers. There was nothing wrong with the original buttons, but I found a set of blazer buttons copied from George Washington's buttons and they are are lovely. When this blazers bites the dust, the buttons will move on to a new one.
Susan said…
A friend of mine makes lovely buttons that should be considered for any button upgrades you are considering. Jenny's buttons are special. Here's a link to them: http://www.etsy.com/shop/jennybuttons
A few months ago, I bought the same J. Crew jacket in black off an Ebay seller. I had the same thought, to replace the leather covered hot cross bun buttons with pewter crested buttons. The blue velvet jacket looks great on your friend!
Duchesse said…
lagatta: There are many findings stores in Montréal, we're lucky that way!

Pseu: I think it's fun and see Susan's comment below... yum!

coffeeaddict: Those buttons sound divine, what a great reno!

materfamilias: Only changing one could look amusing but I think it's a greater challenge than changing all of them. Occasionally I have seen someone (even a designer) put a set of unmatched but relating buttons on a cardi.

hostess: We have buttons from our grandmothers on both sides of the family, and I have my mother's.

Kathy: Oh yes, thank for that tip.

Pam: Once you get button fever it's for life. I'd love to see your coat.

Shelley: Your buttons will find a home, maybe now that it's top of mind? Pls see C.'s comment.

C.: Sometimes I buy buttons (on donated clothes or on cards) for "someday" but am trying to break that habit as I have buttons that are 0ver 45 years old saved for "someday".

I'll go back to Tender Buttons just to workshop!

Susan@1:07: Mens' buttons are a form of jewelery they can wear unobtrusively and why not?

Susan@1:17: Thank you for this, the buttons are enticing and also like the idea of monograms; maybe just on cuffs, not a whole coat full.

Louise: I'm not sure what Diane's are made of, possibly pewter too? it takes a good eye to see beyond bad buttons!

Viktoria Berg said…
That´s a very sharply dressed lady. Wearing a jacket with nothing underneath - I should do that too, it would perhaps give my jackets more mileage.

I think buttons are very important and that they don´t get nearly the consideration they deserve. A change of buttons can transform a shirt, a coat, or a jacket. I do it all the time, and thrift stores are a great place to look for button treasure. It´s also something I often look for when I travel, since I live under a rock, shopping-wise...
Anonymous said…
I just, and I mean just, purchased a
new Nanette Lepore tunic sweater from a local consignment shop.
I love it immediately but the tunic sweater had a fluffy scarf wrapped around the waist which I disliked.
I explained my aversion to the sales
associate and she so kindly said
"don't buy it if you don't love it"
That's Boston for you! Still I knew I could make it better, purchased it and ran home, pulled the puffy scarf out and replaced it with a length of suede ribbon belt.
See, sometimes we can improve on things. Keep your eyes open to the possibilities.
Love it now, all the way.
SewingLibrarian said…
I still remember a pretty white summer dress I wore in college. When my mother and I bought it, it had ugly orange buttons. We changed them to dainty black ones, and the dress looked completely different - elegant and dressy. Lesson learned!
Following on C's comment (Anonymous at 11:36). if you don't want to fiddle with covering buttons, there are still people who will do it for you (and cover belt buckles, too!) It used to be that the local Singer stores would have that service, but now it involves the mail unless you live in NYC.
Duchesse said…
Viktoria: I'm going to guess she is wearing a camisole, and yes, the look is "just the jacket'. Buttons are a wonderful travel souvenir, so easy to carry.

Anon@6:53: I love this story on so many levels. Enjoy your find!

SewingLibrarian: Thanks for mentioning the resource. Mailing makes sense if it's too fiddly a task. I once about lost my mind making tiny covered buttons, I think maybe 30, for a long-ago wedding ensemble.

Mia said…
I think I own the same jacket and the buttons always bothered me. I was thinking of parting ways with it but now thanks to you I know what to do! I love velvet....
jen storer said…
Dearest Duchesse, should any of your lovely, button-loving readers ever visit Melbourne, Australia they must visit Buttonmania. Heavenly! jx

Shelley said…
The title and one of the stores mentioned in the comments take me back to a childhood game my paternal grandparents played with me. It was a silly thing of hiding a button between the hands and trying to pass it to someone else (or not), chanting Button, Button, Who's Got the Button. That may not have been the real version, mind. No one else seems to have had this experience, then again my grandparents were older than most of my peers, born in 1890 and 1894 to my 1956... It's a nice memory, thanks for provoking it.
Anonymous said…
I love replacing unremarkable buttons with pretty ones -- and always hunt for the "perfect" buttons when I sew or knit a garment. In fact, I'm about to post some FAs on my blog that have special buttons on them.

One of my grandmothers used to cut the buttons off of her clothes when she was done with them, so I've inherited some very lovely ones. The really special ones I like to put pin backs on them and wear as jewelry.
LPC said…
I'm really enjoying your posts on customizing - the fur, the jewels, and now buttons. It's fun to consider. I believe that one day I will go forward, and it'll in part due to you.

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